NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary Biology

Ajay Agrawal, John McHale, Alexander Oettl


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy, Adam Jaffe and Benjamin Jones, editors
Conference held August 2-3, 2013
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press

The concentration of research output is declining at the department level but increasing at the individual level. For example, in evolutionary biology, from 1980 to 2000, the fraction of citation-weighted publications produced by the top 20% of departments falls from approximately 75% to 60% but rises for the top 20% of individual scientists from 70% to 80%. This may be due to changing patterns of collaboration, perhaps caused by the rising burden of knowledge and the falling cost of communication, which increase the returns to collaboration. We find that the propensity to collaborate is rising over time and the nature of collaboration is changing. The geographic distance and the difference in institution rank between collaborators is increasing. The relative size of the pool of potential distant collaborators for star versus non-star scientists is rising. We develop a simple model based on star advantage in terms of opportunities for collaboration that provides a unified explanation for these facts. Finally, considering the effect of individual location decisions of stars on the overall distribution of human capital, we speculate on the efficiency of the emerging distribution of scientific activity, given the localized externalities generated by stars and the increasing returns to distant collaboration.

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This paper was revised on July 18, 2014

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19653, Collaboration, Stars, and the Changing Organization of Science: Evidence from Evolutionary Biology, Ajay Agrawal, John McHale, Alexander Oettl
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Julia Lane
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